When Selena Gomez took the stage at the American Music Awards on Sunday (Nov. 19), it marked her first live gig since a largely private struggle with autoimmune disease lupus — culminating in the need for a kidney transplant — which kept her off the radar all summer. So it was fitting that Gomez traveled straight from the awards ceremony to the Lupus Research Alliance‘s 2017 gala in New York City, arriving at close to 3 a.m. on Monday (Nov. 20) in order to speak at the event that night.
Onstage at the Seth Meyers-hosted gala in Midtown, where she served as honorary co-chair, Gomez shared more details of her recent kidney transplant donated by her longtime friend Francia Raisa.
“After undergoing so many tests to monitor my kidneys, my doctors … said that I would be needing a kidney transplant. Maybe I wasn’t necessarily really good at knowing what that meant, so it actually got to a point where it was life or death,” Gomez explained, clad in a canary yellow Calvin Klein dress. “Thankfully, one of my best friends gave me her kidney, and it was the ultimate gift of life.”
It was while addressing her doctors, two of whom were in attendance, that Gomez started tearing up: “I just want to say thank you so much. To actually be honoring people like you, when in my world it [awards ceremonies] can seem kind of vain, this is really, really special,” she said.
Gomez has close ties with the organization, which raises funds to improve treatments for lupus while working toward a cure. Back in 2016, she donated proceeds from her Revival Tour to the alliance, and encouraged fans to donate to the organization through a heartfelt Instagram post revealing her surgery in September.
The 25-year-old “Wolves” singer checked into an Arizona rehab facility in part due to her battle with the disease in 2014, but kept her condition a secret until revealing her lupus diagnosis in an October 2015 Billboard cover story. The disease causes one’s immune system to mistakenly attack healthy tissue, cells and organs, possibly affecting everything from a person’s heart and lungs to — in Gomez’s case — their kidneys. An estimated 16,000 Americans (and primarily women) develop lupus each year, according to the organization.
This year’s gala — the largest single lupus fundraiser in the world — raised more than $3.2 million, with every cent going directly to fund lupus research programs. Along with Gomez, the gala also honored NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke, who announced that the media giant would be contributing $1 million to the organization. Downtown, the Empire State Building lit up purple and red, matching the decor inside the gala ballroom to raise awareness of the disease.
“Not everyone is lucky enough to have a donor, and something as monumental as an organ transplant shouldn’t be the best treatment option available,” said Gomez, Billboard‘s 2017 Woman Of The Year recipient, in closing. “I am supporting the Lupus Research Alliance because they are getting results, and that’s what gives people hope.”
Check out portions of Gomez’s speech recorded by those in attendance, below.